NASA’s Insight probe on Mars must finish operations

As dust builds up on the solar panels, the probe, already operating with a tenth of the power it had every day initially, will soon find its batteries run out.

After about four years of exploring the bowels of Mars, the InSight probe will have to end operations this summer, due to dust accumulating on its solar panels. In an announcement Tuesday, NASA said the data collected will continue to be used by scientists around the world for many years to continue improving our understanding of planet formation.

Remarkably equipped with an ultra-sensitive seismometer, InSight has recorded more than 1,300 “Mars earthquakes,” including one with a magnitude of 5 just two weeks ago, the largest to date.

No more battery

A great bonus before the end of the applause: around July, the seismometer will be turned off. The probe’s power level will then be checked once a day, and some pictures may still be taken. Then by the end of 2022, the mission will stop altogether.

The reason: Martian dust accumulated on two solar panels over a period of months, each about 2.2 meters wide. The speed of dust accumulation turned out to be somewhat consistent with what was previously estimated by NASA teams.

big developments

InSight, one of the four robots currently on the Red Planet, along with the persevering American rover and Curiosity, and China’s Zurong, reached Mars in November 2018. Since then the French-made seismometer has made significant progress.

Bruce Banerdt, who has been on the mission for more than ten years, explained that the interior of Mars has so far been a “big question mark”. Thanks to InSight, “For the first time in history, we’ve been able to map the interior of Mars.” Seismic waves, which vary depending on the material they pass through, provide a picture of the bowels of the planet.

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For example, scientists were able to confirm that the core of Mars is indeed liquid, and determine the thickness of the Martian crust, which is less dense than previously imagined and may consist of three layers.

Because of the seismometer’s success, NASA plans to use the technology elsewhere in the future, said Laurie Glaes, director of planetary sciences, “We would very much like to create a whole network on the Moon, to really understand what’s going on.”

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